Running through the leading All-Star candidates for each West team
Dallas Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzki
After Anthony Davis was forced to miss the 2015 All-Star Game with a strained shoulder, Dirk Nowitzki earned his 13th All-Star nod. When he took the floor, he made his presence known and arguably stole the show when he slammed down an alley-oop dunk assisted by Stephen Curry. It was reportedly his first alley-oop in over a decade -- and he made it count. Sure, the Western Conference is undeniably stacked with talented big men. But even at 37, Nowitzki leads Dallas with 17.3 points per game. His accuracy from the floor (.484 FG% and .400 3P%) this season indicates that Nowitzki is aging like a fine wine.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY SportsJerome Miron
Denver Nuggets - Danilo Gallinari
When Gallinari scores 20+ points, the Nuggets are 8-2 this season. When he doesn't, the team is a more abysmal 3-12. Denver has recently tried Gallinari as a power forward; he's logged 42.4 percent of his minutes at the position in his last five games. When he takes over the game, Denver looks like a team that could make the playoffs in the Western Conference. That's important considering Denver's not been impressive otherwise. The former first-round pick averages a career-high 17.5 points per game with a career-high 6.3 rebounds and (you guessed it) a career-high 2.8 assists.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY SportsChris Humphreys
Golden State Warriors - Stephen Curry
2015 NBA Champion and regular-season MVP Stephen Curry has already taken his game to such impressive new heights that he's actually made a case for the league's most improved player. He's averaging nine points per game (23.8 to 32.0 PPG) more than he did last season. Curry has also improved his three-point game, jumping from 3.9 made per game last season to 5.0 this season. Curry, of course, helped lead his team to 24 consecutive victories to begin the season. But his remarkable shooting percentage (.521 FG%) is perhaps his most impressive accomplishment. He's projected to lead voting among all NBA talent.
Getty ImagesMaddie Meyer
Houston Rockets - James Harden
The Rockets are below .500 (12-14) through 26 games. Former head coach Kevin McHale was fired after just 11 games. Perhaps instinctively, many credit James Harden's recent "struggles" for the trouble. But Harden is still an NBA All-Star and still one of the finer players in the league, by all metrics. In fact, Harden has improved his scoring (27.4 PPG in 2014-15 compared with 29.0 PPG) as well as his rebounding (5.7 RPG to 6.2 RPG) this season. His field goal percentage has dropped, but with a career-high 38.5 minutes per game he's also putting in extra time on the court.
Los Angeles Clippers - Blake Griffin
Griffin has become one of the league's most exciting players and a deserving candidate for the Western Conference All-Star team. Last year, Griffin was voted to the All-Star team and was even selected as a starter. But the power forward required surgery to remove a staph infection and as a result lost his spot on the roster to Portland's Damian Lillard. He's since improved his scoring (21.9 PPG to 23.9 PPG), rebounding (7.6 RPG to 8.8 RPG) and accuracy (.502 FG% to .514 FG%) this season. Expect Griffin to continue his streak and make his sixth-consecutive All-Star Game -- one for each active season he's had in the NBA.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY SportsKelley L Cox
Los Angeles Lakers - Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is a 17-time NBA All-Star. According to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, he "deserves" the honor once more during his announced final season in the league. NBA analyst Mark Jackson went one mark further when he spoke with FOX Sports -- adding that he thinks Bryant ought to be named a starter in the game as a thank you to one of the "true greats" in league history. Bryant can still score (sometimes), but he has been undeniably abysmal for Los Angeles. He's shooting a career-worst .330 from the field. His international appeal, however, will likely earn him a roster spot during his farewell tour. Also, consideration as a "front court" player allows him votes away from Golden State's Stephen Curry.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsJesse Johnson
Memphis Grizzlies - Marc Gasol
The Grizzlies might be the most disappointing above-.500 team in the NBA. It doesn't feel like anyone on this roster has played as well as they had in years past, and that includes Gasol, but the arguable best center in the NBA was starting at such a high place that knocking him down a peg or two hardly keeps him out of All-Star consideration. Gasol is still one of the league's better defenders. He's still the engine that makes the Grizzlies go on both sides of the floor, especially with his silky big-man shooting.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Minnesota Timberwolves - Andrew Wiggins
This was a tough one. Towns or Wiggins? Wiggins or Towns? Wiggins or Towns or Andre Miller? (Just kidding on that last one.) At the moment, the tiebreaker between the Wolves' two future stars is probably just that Wiggins is a more important part of the team's infrastructure. Towns is still sitting on the bench during fourth quarters and playing limited minutes, though he's been fantastic during that time. Wiggins, meanwhile, is playing heavy minutes, scoring well and contributing as a defender on top of that.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY SportsCary Edmondson
New Orleans Pelicans - Anthony Davis
The obvious centerpiece of Alvin Gentry's offense, Davis is a developing superstar. He missed the All-Star Game last season due to injury, but look for him to make up for his absence with a huge showcase this year in Toronto. Davis was already one of the league's most impressive as a shot blocker, scorer and rebounder. Now, he's added new dynamics to his game -- including a long-range shot (13-of-39 after going 1-for-12 last season) that has expanded his offensive presence for New Orleans.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportDerick E. Hingle
Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is one of the most explosive basketball players in recent memory. His performance at the 2015 All-Star Game -- when he took home MVP honors -- exemplified exactly that. The young star scored 41 points in just 26 minutes. He was just one point away from the all-time record, 42 points, set by NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain in 1962. Chamberlain scored his total in 37 minutes. Westbrook, however, tallied his score with highlight-reel dunks as well as a streak of consecutive threes. The only other player to score 40 points in an All-Star Game is none other than Michael Jordan. Look for Westbrook to try and reprise his performance with an encore in 2016.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY SportsMark D. Smith
Phoenix Suns - Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe has had some of the league's most dominant performances this season. Bledsoe added 23 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocked shots against the Timberwolves. Bledsoe has demonstrated unique talent. He's one of only nine players in the NBA who averages 20-plus points and five-plus assists during the 2014-15 season. Bledsoe has already dropped 30-plus points during seven different games this season.
Getty ImagesStacy Revere
Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard
Portland’s franchise player is having another brilliant offensive season. In the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez, Lillard’s usage rate has soared but he’s as efficient as ever, and the Trail Blazers aren’t as bad as many thought they’d be.
NBAE/Getty ImagesNed Dishman
Sacramento Kings - DeMarcus Cousins
Once considered unpredictable and a challenge to coach, DeMarcus Cousins has evolved into one of the league's finest big men. After a slow start in 2015, however, the Kings have quickly become among the NBA's biggest enigmas. Much of the confusion surrounds Boogie -- when he plays well, he's applauded as a true superstar. But when his team struggles, fans and critics alike seem to credit Cousins for any and all shortcomings. If head coach George Karl can help his star focus and develop his shot, he is one of the league's best and an absolute All-Star.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY SportsKelley L Cox
San Antonio Spurs - Kawhi Leonard
Already a Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, this 24-year-old is unsurprisingly one of the NBA’s five best two-way players. He completely takes over games on both sides of the court, and is the single greatest reason San Antonio has yet to lose a home game.
NBAE/Getty ImagesGarrett Ellwood
Utah Jazz - Derrick Favors
Derrick Favors has never made an NBA All-Star game, but described the honor as a "personal goal" earlier this season. It seems Favors has fine-tuned his midrange jumper to the point where he's near automatic. His jumper is smooth as ever and, more importantly, he's the clear-cut defensive leader for Utah's squad. While he's spent the majority of his young career flying under the radar, his monster 17.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season are enough to attract national attention. He's a perennial candidate to get snubbed, but if he does make the team, it'll be a huge win for Favors and the Utah fan base.